Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Backpacking Coyote Gulch

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Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
Coyote Gulch in Southern Utah is one of many quintessential red rock canyons of the Escalante River drainage. Containing several natural arches, natural bridges, petroglyphs, cascades, waterfalls, and pure beauty, Coyote Gulch is one of the most scenic canyons in Utah. Coyote Gulch could be hiked in one day, but why rush? With all that the canyon has to offer, plan on spending at least one night minimum backpacking. Two nights will really allow you to take in the massive canyon walls, sparkling stream, and breathtaking scenery.

The hardest part about heading to Coyote Gulch? The drive down Hole in the Rock Road out of Escalante. A small compact car can make it, as did my Sonata, but even though its only 40 miles to the Coyote Gulch Short Cut trailhead, it took my car two and a half hours to arrive. This is because Hole in the Rock Road is heavily used, which creates a washboard road, and forces small cars to drive 15-20 MPH. A few of my friends drove a 4x4 car down, and it only took them about 45 minutes down the road to the trailhead. Keep in mind that during or after a rainstorm, Hole in the Rock Road and the trailhead turn off may be impassable.

There are two popular trailheads for hiking into Coyote Gulch - Hurricane Wash and Crack in the Wall (off Fortymile Ridge Road). Starting from Hurricane Wash will require an 8 mile trek in with no water and in a sandy trail. Crack in the Wall is another good route, but requires people (and their packs) to fit through an 18 inch wide "crack", before reaching the main trail. There is a lesser know, and much shorter route called either the Short Cut or Water Tank route. We decided to take this trail since it's only 2 miles in to the bottom of Coyote Gulch. However, this route requires small scrambling down a 100 ft slickrock face. Only sure-footed hikers and those not afraid of heights should attempt this route. A 150 ft rope will be very handy for helping hikers and their packs up this route upon exit. Do not count on a rope being available for you!

Since we started and ended at the Short Cut/Water Tank route, all descriptions will be based off that trail.

How do I get a permit, and how much does it cost?
As of 2016, the permit is free and can be attained at the Short Cut TH, Crack in the Wall TH, or Hurricane Wash TH.

Can I bring my dog?
No, dogs are banned from all Glen Canyon Recreation Areas.

Is this a good trail for my kids?
Yes! I saw several families with kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers.

How many nights do you recommend staying in the canyon?
One night is doable, but I thought two nights was perfect. It gave my group a chance to have some rest time, time to explore, hang out with each other, but also to see all the major sites.

Where can I camp?
Anywhere in the canyon. There are campsites all along the stream. Fires are not permitted in Coyote Gulch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
From Escalante, UT head east on HWY 12 for 5 miles. Turn right onto Hole in the Rock Road. Immediately reset your odometer to 0. Cross several cattle guards. At 36.0 miles, turn left onto the signed Fortymile Ridge Road. At 39.8 miles veer left up to the water tank. Drive another 0.2 miles to reach the TH at the Water Tank (see maps at end of post).
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
Day 1
Distance: 2 mile hike in, plus 4 miles of exploring the canyon (6 miles total)
Elevation change: descending 700 ft
Time: 5 hours total
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 We drove down from SLC after work, and arrived at the TH around midnight. Quickly set up camp, and got about 5 hours of sleep. We woke up at 5:30am Friday morning, and got out gear together, and started hiking at 7am. This was taken just before sunrise on the west side of the water tank, in the parking lot. There is actually water in this tank, I think for the cattle in the area.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Just before getting on the trail, the early morning light was too good to pass for a photo op!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Got my pack ready to go! 
Tip: Bring water shoes that don't allow rocks or sand to get inside the shoe. You will be hiking in water most of the time.
For a list of what I usually bring, click here.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Starting out the trail cut through this sage field for about 3/4 mile.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Once you get to the slickrock, follow the cairns. You will be hiking to the west of that hill. If you get yourself on the east side, you are going the wrong way.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Several desert flowers were in bloom!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 CJ leads the way over the slickrock.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 The cairns should take you past this Lone Rock (rock to the right), that looks out of place by looking at its geology. It almost looks like an ancient volcano rock.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 At about 1.8 miles you will start to see that there is a canyon ahead of you - this is the canyon you will hike down into.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 What you want to look for, is the large white "U" or wing-shaped figure across the canyon wall. This is where the short cut route leads you down into the canyon. It's the only spot in the canyon, that is doable for hiking down. Just to the left is Jacob Hamblin arch - but you can't quite tell until you are further down this hill.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Working our way down, the guys led the way, and sometimes had to hike down facing the slickrock. At times, we had to drop our packs down to the next person because the weight of our packs was throwing us off balance.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Waiting for our group to get down the steep section.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 The last piece of the steep section requires a little scrambling. With someone at the base of this part, you can get some help down easier.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Finally down in the canyon!!! It took us 1 hour 15 minutes to reach this point. We literally picked the first large campsite we found, so we could fit all 12 people in one site. Our campsite was just across the stream and to the left.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Half of our group sets up camp. The other half of our group arrived an hour later. We were able to get this campsite at around 8:30am.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Once you get down the steep hill, if you head left towards Jacob Hamblin arch, there is a natural spring on the right hand side of the canyon, that is perfect for getting more water to filter. There is less silt and dirt, which makes it faster to filter.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
After setting up camp, we hiked around the bend to Jacob Hamblin Arch (the water spring is on the right side of this photo).
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 The canyon walls were so big!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 On the opposite side of Jacob Hamblin Arch, with the morning light coming through the arch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Another view of Jacob Hamblin Arch, with the alcove above us.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 We turned around at this tree (roughly 2 miles up stream from camp).
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 We then made our way back towards camp.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 My friends walking ahead of me show how big the canyon is.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Once the sun rose above the canyon walls, it warmed up quickly and the water started to feel very refreshing.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Selfie!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Under one of the big alcoves in Coyote Gulch.


Day 2
Distance: 12 miles RT to Steven's Arch
Elevation change: 250 ft
Time: 8 hours total
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 On Day 2 (Saturday) we started hiking at 9am, since we knew we had a big day ahead of us. Our goal was to hike to the confluence of the Escalante River, and over to Steven's Arch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 At Swiss Cheese Falls.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Around every corner was something even prettier!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Cutting through this small slot canyon.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 My friend Margarite stands under Coyote Natural Bridge.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Part of the trail cut through very shaded sections, and it was a relief from the 75F heat. Although the creek looks deep, it was never more than ankle deep.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Coyote Gulch has several secret areas along the canyon, if you know where to look. One are these large petroglphys. I would like to keep some things hidden, and not open to vandalism, so I'm not telling where they are located.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Artifacts found in Coyote Gulch. Another secret spot!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Continuing down stream.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 About halfway (3 miles from our camp) there is a section that starts to get rocky. This is where you will start to see waterfalls, cascades, and around this bend, Cliff Arch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 We reached Cliff Arch! Our first group photo with everyone there, using my trusty mini tripod.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Mini waterfall near Cliff Arch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 2nd large waterfall.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Another shot of Cliff Arch. The photo makes this arch look small, but it is actually really big!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Waterfall #3 - taking it all in!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Waterfall #4
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 This is another natural spring in Coyote Gulch, which also doubles as a small waterfall. Standing underneath this was one of my favorite moments in the canyon because the cold, clean water felt so refreshing after sweating for hours! This is a good place to refill water on the hike back to camp.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Waterfall #5. From these falls, you only have about 1.5 miles before reaching the confluence.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 I really liked this part of the canyon - it just had a different feel that the upper canyon.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
Just before reaching the confluence of the Escalante River, I took my shoes off and walked in the sandy water. It felt so good to walk barefoot!
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 It took us roughly 4.5-5 hours to reach the Escalante River. Once you reach it, turn left and hike up stream for about 0.2 miles until you see Steven's Arch.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
 Just around the bend is Steven's Arch! Half of our group decided to hike up to to, and stand underneath. There is a faint trail that leads up to it.
Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah
We all brought our swimsuits along and swam in the river for about an hour. After swimming and having lunch, we returned the way we came, this time hiking at a faster pace and taking less photos. It only took us 3 hours to get back to camp. Be sure to bring plenty of food, water, and sunblock for this all day hike. 
Coyote Gulch Trail map
 This is the Short Cut/Water Tank trail map looking NE.
Coyote Gulch Trail map
This trail map shows a close up of how to get down the steep section.
Coyote Gulch Trail map
Overview of major sites, marked with an arrow and name.

Be sure to check out this time lapse video of our trip to Coyote Gulch!

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Backpacking Coyote Gulch, Utah

Have you been to Coyote Gulch before? What was your adventure like? 
Have questions about backpacking here? 
Post your comments below!

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13 comments:

  1. Wonderful and informative...thank you! :)

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  2. That was great, . . I felt like I was there. Loved the pictures.

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  3. What a great hike! I love all the arches and falls. Hiking in this depth of water is fun. Looks like your group had a fantastic holiday!

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    1. You guys HAVE to go there! You would really love it. - Alicia

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  4. Surprised you all didn't go up to take a swim in the Black Lagoon. Anyways, a few details you should have probably included are that 1) Maximum group size is 12, which your group maxed out. I've seen other group photos that have well over 12 in them and that's not cool because when people don't follow rules like that, more rules get created, permit fees get applied, etc. and I don't like seeing fees and additional regulations put into place that wouldn't be there if people were more respectful. Not only that, but in canyons like that, noise travels easily, and the larger the group, the more noise there will likely be from that group, and that can disturb the experience of others trying to enjoy the natural ambient sounds of the canyon. So, not only can large groups more physical impact on an environment, but an audible impact as well. 2) As noted here, https://www.nps.gov/glca/learn/news/new-waste-disposal-requirements-for-coyote-gulch-visitors.htm, and in many other trail guides that have since been posted online by others for this place, NPS requires all to pack out their own solid waste with appropriate WAG Bags or other similar product and then disposed of properly. Even back in 2009, when I was down there and these regulations weren't in effect yet, there was loads of TP, feminine hygiene products, and other unsanitary items that people had left in the bushes or buried very shallowly and close to the waters edge. It was nasty and made me cringe to think what else was flowing in that water. I acknowledge though, most probably still don't follow this new recent regulation because they're either ignorant of it and/or they don't care because they know it is hard for the NPS to enforce. I wish it were something that could be effectively enforced, because that alone may just thin out some of the crowds.

    Lastly, there was some discussion not long ago about the prospects of paving the entire HIR road. I'll just say I'm glad they didn't and hope they don't ever do it. That would really amplify the crowds down there.

    That all said, it looks like you had a good time down there. I'd love to visit it again sometime, but probably not until I get to experience a lot of other places on my own list first.

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    1. All good points. We did stop at the Black Lagoon, and I wasn't impressed. There was tons of poison ivy too along the trail to it, so I thought I'd leave it out. I imagine they HIR will be paved one day as well, but let's hope its a long ways away! -Alicia

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  5. What was the day/night temperature like when you went (in may?)

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    1. We had perfect weather over Memorial Day weekend in May - 70s for the high, 50s for the low. Not cold at all. Water temperature felt great to walk/swim in all day as well. -Alicia

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  7. I'm planning on hiking Coyote Gulch in the springtime and was wanting to know if there is any other way in/out without ascending/descending Jacob Hamlins Arch. There are a few in my group that are terrified of heights. Thanks

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    1. Yes, there are two other routes - Hurricane Wash/Red Well TH and Crack in the Wall.

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